Los Angeles is famous for its music scene; with plenty of venues, and even more bands, the competition to draw an audience is fierce and many venues have implemented a pay-to-play policy to ensure a good crowd.
In order to perform, each band must sell a certain amount of presale tickets before the show. Many bands find it difficult to distribute tickets to fans before the show and are sometimes forced to buy their unsold tickets out of pocket, just to have an opportunity to perform.
Many other musicians are simply bothered by the principle of pay-to-play.
“It’s hard enough to make money doing this, so it doesn’t make sense to pay to play,” said Chris Baker, a local musician.
Mandatory presale is a characteristic rather unique to the Los Angeles area. The well-established music scene and oversaturated market have caused intense competition for space and fans, making it a “survival of the fittest” world for growing bands. “The LA area is probably the worst place to try to ‘make it’,” according to Mark Moore, bassist of LA-based Oh Sweet Ransom. “This area is so saturated with bands. The audience is desensitized to the live music experience.”
The system often causes financial constraints that bands in the rest of the country do not experience. In an area where the cost of living is already higher than most, many musicians are at an economic disadvantage. Many bands have to postpone tours or settle for mediocre equipment simply because they cannot afford it.
Venue managers are not the sole advocates of the pay-to-play system. Often times, the venues are rented out by booking companies who make bands sell tickets in order to offset the cost of rental.
“Venues aren’t free, booking companies have to pay that big bill. Pre-Sale helps with that,” said Vicktor Zuniga, founder of a small booking company in Los Angeles.
Commercial property in the Los Angeles area is quite expensive, and many venues have to pay increased rent because of the economic recession. These rising costs are diffused in various ways and, unfortunately for bands, pay-to-play is one of these ways.
Though many bands are put at a disadvantage, some bands understand the value and reasoning behind the system.
“I feel for both sides. Being in a band, it’s hard to have to pay to play a show but I understand you need to show venues you can bring people to your shows…It’s only okay when both parties (band and promoters) work together and make it aware of the reality and expectations of the show,” said Jolene Biggs, another local musician.
Bands that are willing to put in the work are rewarded. Booking companies often lower the number of presale, or eliminate it all together for bands that they have good relationships with, proving that good things do come to those who work for them.
Local band Mainstream Scare is one example of how hard work pays off. After putting in their time selling presale, they now routinely headline shows, and have played with many nationally touring bands. Guitarist Kenneth Hunter had this to say about selling tickets: “You have to start somewhere. Presale sucks, but hard work pays off!”